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Jerk Strength - Work Your Weak Areas Part IV: Strength - Jerk Overhead

By: Leo Totten

Originally posted September 21, 2018 as part of a series

As we discussed in the article on SNATCH Overhead strength movements, getting the JERK overhead and keeping it there is pretty darn important too.  Nothing is more frustrating than to hit a strong clean and then blow the jerk.  Or going after the gold medal with the winning clean and jerk only to have the Jerk come crashing to the platform before the down signal.  If Jerks are the weak part of your clean and jerk, then you know what you have to do, right??


Push Press and Push Jerk:   Refer to the article on Snatch Grip Push Press and Push Jerk and you get the idea of how to do the same movement to improve the Jerk.  The technique cues are basically the same for the Jerk.  Although these exercises can be done from the front or the back, I prefer doing them from the front to drill the same position as when actually performing the Jerk itself.

Set up:  This is a crucial part of getting the Push Press, Push Jerk and Split Jerk into position for the optimal dip and drive.  Many lifters mess this up and I can usually tell when they set up whether they will make the lift or not.  When setting up, the core has to be tight so that the whole body works to propel the weight upward, not just the arms.  At the same time, the dip and drive have to be straight down and straight up with the center of gravity of the bar over the middle of the foot.  The bar should be on the shoulders and clavicles with a loose grip on the bar.  Lift and spread the chest taking in a big gulp of air.  At the same time, the elbows will spread out and probably down just slightly.  Be careful not to lift the shoulders where the bar loses contact with the clavicles so the bar doesn’t collapse on the chest on the initial dip.  Also, once the dip occurs, the elbows will not drop at all and stay neutral.  A common mistake for many lifters is to try to push the elbows way up on the dip, but with any significant amount of weight on the bar, the elbows will invariably drop causing the drive to go forward. Practice this setup technique whenever performing any of the overhead jerk movements.

Jerk Dips:  If getting into that “set” position is difficult and the weight just feels really heavy, try Jerk Dips.  Basically, all that exercise entails is to take a weight off the rack and get set as if starting a Jerk, then do the dip.  A common mistake is to do this exercise like a ¼ front squat.  Keep in mind that this is a Jerk exercise, so get into that “set” position each time.  One should be able to handle a significant amount of weight, probably 120% or more of what they plan on Jerking.   Do no more than triples for 4-5 sets.  (Hint: A great way to incorporate practicing this set position is at the end of each set of Front Squats.)

Jerk Drives:  A little more advanced movement from the Jerk Dips are Jerk Drives.  Still do the “set” position, but instead of just doing the “dip” part, add the “drive” part.  The drive should only go to the top of the forehead while balancing on the balls of the feet.  If the dip and drive are straight up and down like they should be, the lifter should be able to hold that extended position for a second or two.  Remember that the legs do the work and the arms only follow through to the full extension of the much stronger hips and legs.  Again, probably 4-5 sets of 1-3 reps with 80-100%+ of max jerks should help improve the dip and drive.

Press in Split:  Ever since they took the Press out of competition (yeah, I’m that old to remember the Press – God, was it awful!!), upper body and shoulder stability have been an issue for many lifters.  In order to support the heavy jerks, there needs to be much of the strength and stability that the Press training brought along with it.  So, getting back to pressing movements is critical.  In particular, I like the Press in Split. This can be done either from the front or back, but I tend to have it performed from the back.  That way, the lifter only needs to focus on the press movement itself and pushing straight up.  The key is to only use the arms and shoulders while keeping the torso and the split in perfect position.  This isometric hold of the split reinforces correct receiving position while working the shoulder strength.  We usually don’t worry about working off of percentages, but stressing strict positions with no “body heave” to get the bar moving.  4-5 sets of 5 reps are often utilized and we sometimes mix it up by using dumbbells.

Jerk Recoveries:  Back in the day, I would get frustrated when I was just not able to hold jerks overhead, particularly after a tough clean.  When I started doing Jerk Recoveries, my jerks got a lot more stable and much more consistent.  Set up inside a power rack with the pins set at the top of the head when standing on your toes.  This is really all the higher one has to drive a jerk to be successful if the dip and drive are done properly.  Set up so that the hips are directly under the bar – this is the critical part of the lift.  Split under and get in the correct position with the center of gravity of the bar directly over the hips, recover with the front foot first, pushing up and back with that front foot.  Then, follow through with the back foot recovery, all the time striving for vertical movement of the bar and as little horizontal as possible.  Again, the hip position is crucial.  Back in the day, I learned this essential exercise inside a power rack at York Barbell that was literally 6” front to back.  I REALLY had to push vertically to stand up with the weight or else I got a major “pinball” effect bouncing off the rack!!  I got to the point where I could do 250kg and when that happened, guess what, hardly ever missed a jerk!  Typically, we do 4-5 sets of singles and doubles and try to pile on the weight.  Up to 120% or more of your current jerk works great!

Front Squat + Jerk:  Did you ever get to the end of a meet and you have to hit that last clean and jerk for a Gold medal or that elusive personal record, only to just run out of gas? Been there, done that!  The best fix I have found is to do the Front Squat plus Jerk combo exercise.  Typically, we will do 3 front squats followed by one jerk but sometimes we push the weight and do 2 fronts plus the jerk.  Either way, it works the strength as well as endurance.  Using percentage of the 1RM in the Jerk, we do 3+1 up to 85-90% and 2+1 for 90% and heavier.  Another variation is to do a pause at the bottom of the front squat and then do the jerk. (Kinda simulating when you hit that heavy clean just a tad out of position, you have to sit in the bottom for balance and then grind out of the bottom – never had that happen, I’ll bet!)

Sots Press:  One of my favorites!!  When I saw Victor Sots do this movement with 155kg for double, I was amazed and just had to incorporate the exercise into our plan!  What a great exercise for strength, balance, flexibility and focus! Use a clean grip, while sitting in the bottom in the front squat position, press.  Sounds simple, but trust me, not easy at all!  Keep it strict, keep it light and do 3-5 sets of 5 at the end of the workout and you will be surprised how useful this exercise is. (Hint:  balance is an issue when first learning this exercise, so be very careful when “missing”.)

If STRENGTH is your weak area, then fix that weak area!  Back in the day with my own lifting career, I was always very quick, explosive, flexible with great technique, but was just not very strong! A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and strength was my weak link.  When I got that going, my lifts got going too!

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